The hoo-ha whipped up for literary anniversaries is a recent phenomenon. It began, as I recall, about the same time as the odious commercialisation of Mothering Sunday into Mother’s Day. The first such celebration I remember was that for the four-hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, in 1964. There were commemorative volumes, conferences, leaders in The Times and, longer lasting than the tub-thumping, the establishment of a dubiously handsome centre in Stratford – itself the object of semi-centennial celebration last year.
The Shakespeare high jinks were nothing compared to the Dickens bicentennial orgy in 2012. The BBC invested in months-long Dickens-consciousness-raising events, including a no-expense-spared Great Expectations. There was a bestselling biography by Claire Tomalin. New monuments were raised. Crowning it all were the celebrations for the birthday itself
(7 February) at